The Ultimate Guide to Smart Homes


smart home and IOT

It is indeed a transition when we go back into the past, realising what the real concept of a home was. In essence, back in 1923, a once born brilliant architect named Le Corbusier described the idea of the house as a machine in which once can live. This concept plummeted, and late in the 20th century, it started becoming a reality. Hey, thank you, Sir Le Corbusier! We owe you big time. Back in the days, people were too tied up doing chores that were both boring and monotonous. This drudgery then got phased out by the inception of electricity. Thanks to which the tedious tasks came to collapse and products started coming out that could carry out tasks such as washing clothes and dishes. Most of all, the best thing that ever got invented during that time was the vacuum cleaner. However, only the most affluent of the families could ever afford one.

In the mid of the 20th century, as the technology grew older and stronger; the concept of transistors came into existence. Thanks to which, the inception of appliances started surfacing the markets which could astoundingly control themselves. Built-in sensors and programs were used to carry out tasks in a particular electronic device such as the Television and more. Ask your grandad what it felt like when he bought the television at its earliest stages. You would be shocked to know the benefits it brought to a household. Comparing that television to a modern is a fool’s errand, so don’t do that!

Talking about the 21st century, with great delight, I would like to say that the true essence and the dream that the swiss-born architect Le Corbusier dreamt, is in full throttle and action now. The vision of a fully automated home, smart home is now actually being realised. All the credit goes to the technology we commonly call as the “Internet”, it is now entirely possible to virtually control any electric device or appliance that we have at home remotely with the help of gadgets and hubs. All you need is either a laptop with access to the internet and your particular smart device’s details to connect. Even better, the technology has so tremendously evolved around automation and mobility; almost all of the smart home gadgets have a dedicated app that can be installed on your smartphone, giving you the liberty to control your device from miles away from home. It won’t be long until we witness when these home automation and gadgets indeed overtake and control our lives. Giving us the freedom to do things which otherwise we would think twice given the time constraints and whatnot. This, my beloved readers are referred to as the “Internet of Things’ (IoT). Voila!

So if you are after the whole concept of living smart and converting your home into a smart home, then you are at the right place. At SmartNutter.com, I have done enough due diligence on each article that I write and share my experiences and reviews about what made me convert my dumb home into a smart home.

Let Us First Begin With, What In Reality, Is A Smart Home?

A very layman explanation to a smart home is, it’s a place where all your electric and electronic devices are wired together which are all then connected to a central computer system which is capable of automating, control and symmetrically monitor them. Wow, I could have never been so simple in explaining things. Typically in a smart home, you can control what time your heating should ramp up or switch off entirely, when and how your music playlist should play without you even touching your speakers, set your light bulbs intensity based on your mood and plethora of more features. One of the best inventions in the smart home world is the smart window blinds. Believe you me, this thing alone has saved me thousands of dollars in utility bills since the photoelectric sensor present on the smart blinds quickly detects when it is dark and pulls the blinds down, and opens up the blinds when it catches the sun is up. This is fundamentally important if you are not at home throughout the day and want the UV from the sun to heat up your room or lounge where this gadget is installed. You ought to save a lot on the utility costs if you implement this very gadget, like today!

Well, I want to be honest with my readers! Your current home is “NOT” completely dumb. You may ask how? Well, all the appliances you currently have at home right now do have specific sensors and built-n electric controllers built-in into them. So not so dumb eh!

Example? Almost all of the latest washing machines that are available in the market, or perhaps the one dated 10 years back; do have a smart feature built-in into them. Which are they follow a particular pattern of cleaning, washing, rinsing and spins; depending on how you configure it to function as soon as you switch it on? This sir is “SMARTNESS”. Similarly, if you have a centralised heating system, that, to begin with, is a smarty solution. Care to the word “smarty”. The thermostat that controls and regulates the temperature on this natural-gas-powered heating at your home has defined parameters and sensors to know when the desired temperature is reached and hence either cuts off the heat or ramps it up further. To top that all off, maybe you have made the plunge and picked up you very first smart device not knowing that you can now be called as the Mr Smart Home Guy (we call smart homeowners as Mr Smart Home Guy at SmartNutter.com).

But what in is the real essence of having a true smart home? Apart from all the examples that I have quoted above, it does bring your home to a level where it is regulated by electric devices with built-in sensors and mods, but a real smart home is far beyond this concept. That concept takes this whole approach a step further, by introducing a centralised system (brain) which when deployed helps control all of these devices centrally. This system is capable of toggling the switches on and off given the current state of your home. You do not need to intervene on a daily basis for this device to control the operations in your home. If you list down all the tasks you do at home daily, you would be shocked to know how much time and energy is required to get the same job done over and over. But with this centralised computer system in place, all of those tasks are done in an automated fashion without the intervention of a human. Just set it once and forget it. Let the computer system do the rest. Obviously there is a certain level of tweaking may be required from time to time to let the AI device completely understand what is it that you want out of your smart home.

A prime example is, this centralised computer system would know on its own when to roll out and roll in the blinds on your windows when the sun is up and vice versa. Another added benefit of having a centralised system in place would be that it can detect when a person is on the floor, and it would turn on the lights given the sun has set outside, and it knows the room and surroundings are dark. It is also capable of turning on the music and switching the lights on and off when you are moving from one place to the other. Overall, this centralised system is capable of understanding and responding to your habits and adapts very quickly and efficiently. Remember, any AI centralised device needs to go through a learning curve and would require a decent amount of time before it can completely take over your tasks in ways that you manually do them. One of the best features of having a centralized computer system connecting all your smart gadgets in one spot is that it can sound an alarm and buzzing sounds, along with notifications sent to you and the local police station if the device knows that you are out of home and the person who is entering has gained entry through force or break-in and is not the owner. Talk about Robocop!

Now Let Us Understand How Smart Homes Work?

Never ever go overboard with home automation. Unless you are multi-millionaire whose prime focus is to stand out in their social circles and boast about! In reality, you do not need to break the bank if you want to convert your home into a smart version of what it is right now. A prime example of a truly built smart home from ground is that of Bill Gates, who is reported to have spent a whopping $127 Million on making it with state of the art technology. So if you are not Bill Gates, then please read on.

Your prime focus should be to buy a thing here and two there, from within the smart automation zone and then perhaps migrate your existing appliance and see if they could possibly be converted into the smart territory. So to automate tools at your home with as little fuss as possible and to keep the automation at modest and necessary levels, the three most common flavours of devices that you could use are:

X-10 Modules (Plugin)

Table of Specifications on the x10

The world’s first-ever smart home automation came into existence during the late 1970s. This was purposely called as the X10, given the name due to its earlier models being ruled out and finally being replaced with the X10. This device is a straightforward plug and play device and can be used to control up to 256 electric appliances in your home. The constraint is that it can only toggle them ON or OFF. It simply gets connected to your already existing electricity cabling and wiring and doesn’t require any additional work to function. So if your prime target is just to control the way your appliances turn on and off, then X10 is the cheapest way of doing it.

Let us dig into more details on the X10 module.

The device you need to be controlled via the X-10 module gets connected to it using the small control unit which then gets plugged into an ordinary electrical power outlet. With the help of a screwdriver, you then can adjust the two dials on each module. The two dials on the X10 are namely

  1. House Code
  2. Unit Code

Table of Specifications on the x10

House Code Device Code
A 1
B 2
C 3
D 4
E 5
F 6
G 7
H 8
I 9
J 10
K 11
L 12
M 13
N 14
O 15
P 16

Wait, don’t get confused! Let me take you through this chart now.

The dial that has the alphabets mentioned from A to P can be used to link the appliances together. For example, you can have one group for all the light on your particular floor in your house. Group B can be a group of all the fans on the floor, and so on. So the primary purpose of this dial is to setup GROUPS that can be toggled ON or OFF using the transmitter-receiver the X10 comes with.

The second dial labelled as the UNIT CODE which is used to mark each appliance it has in the space where the X10 is connected to. For example, you have 5 lights on a particular floor in your house. You can set each light-bulb to have its dedicated “unit code” so that the X10 knows that once the transmitter sends in the signal 0 (off) or 1(on), it can relate to what you desire and toggle that particular group of lights off. You can always mix and match though. So no constraints there!

How does the X10 work

It uses radio frequencies that gets generated via the X10 module and then get sent via the electrical wiring onto which it is connected. The central controller sends regular switching signals, just like a standard computer network. The frequency range of these signals is between (50 to 60 Hz), hence the chances of the signals overlapping is zero (0). Each signal that gets sent via the central unit has a unique code attached to it corresponding to the connected device it is supposed to operate. With the newer models of the X10, i.e. you can even run Air conditioners, Hot tubs, computers, fountains, small pumps, and motors. You can automate all of this using the X10 module. It gives you the option to control all these devices with the help of a transmitter (remote control). This remote sends signals to the central controller on which all the devices are connected, or you even have the option using the remote to send ON and OFF signals directly to the connected appliances and accessories.

By far, X10 is the most adapted international standard for controlling electronic appliances. But do not forget, this is not the only one out there.

Technical Specifications on the X10

Item weight 1.6 ounces approx.
Product dimensions 3.5 x 2.5 x 7.3 inches
Power rating 15 amps, 1/3 hp, 500 watts

Computer Controlled X10 Module

If your only requirement is to automate the switching on and off of a handful of appliances or lights at your home, then do not go overboard with expensive smart home automation kits. Just stick to the basic X10 module as discussed above. That way, you can remain both cost-efficient and it serves the purpose and nips the evil in the bud! But if you want to control almost all your present electronic devices then the best possible way is to set up your home computer (preferably a desktop over a laptop) to act as the central system, and the X10 module then can be connected to it using an interface that is readily available on the internet.

For this particular example, I would consider the infamous X-10 Firecracker computer interface. It is a device that is capable of sending radio signals directly from your computer to the X10 modules connected all across your house. This serves as the backbone of your complete X-10 smart home automation system and you are given the access to your X-10 module on your computer with the help of a GUI (graphical user interface) friendly software that can then be configured to set timers, schedules and also gives the user the ability to even schedule patterns that can be up to days and months. This software also gives you the option to create macros and formulate groups under which specific conditions can be configured for you to have a fully automated X10 style smart home.

If you are an IT geek like I am, then you would be glad to know that the X-10 computer-controlled module comes in both Windows and Linux operation system support. Yay!

Wireless Systems

One of the main benefits of smart home automation systems is the enhancement of security. A recent survey conducted reports that 73% of the people opted-in for the smart home concept to enhance their safety and have better controls over what’s happening in their house when it is under lock and key. This concept can easily be attained by the help of the wireless Net-Connected systems. It is essentially a computer-controlled X-10 system that is capable of providing the owner with an interface that can be used to hook up your security cameras and other gadgets. You can then easily stream the live videos from your CCTV to your device with the help of it. With the help of this system, you can easily set up the home to behave in a way that it is “lived in”. You can switch on the lights and turn on the TV at unpredictable times giving the impression of someone inside the house. This acts as an excellent method of deterrence and is known to ward off intruders who are merely in their inception stage of breaking into your home. This whole Wireless X10 setup would come as a surprise to them and is bound to throw them off.

DIY Smart Home

If you are anyone other than an average person, by normal I mean someone who prefers to buy a device that is readily available over the internet or at the shops, brings them home, plugs them in and starts using them off the bat; then the X10 system is sufficient for you.

But what if you are a hobbyist, a hacker, a DIY geek, a tech-nerd (Ahem! Like myself); then you are bound to explore the possibilities of automating your home in your own way without the need of expensive gadgetry and utilities. Such a possible example could be the Arduino micro-controller that enables you to configure your computer to the electronic appliances you have at your home. This is the most popular DIY way through which you can automate devices at your home without incurring hefty costs. After all, smart homes do carry a hefty price tag if you are not well aware of what you are digging into. Such DIY people rely mainly on community forums, blogs (Ahem! SmartNutter maybe?) To find out what latest trends are and what bugs have been reported by the masses of the similar platform that they have been using to automate their own dumb home.

If you are a student, I bet you would be keen to know how you can convert your dorm room into a smart room. Let me tell you, there is no better feeling of having the best room, the best watch, the best glasses on you, during the college days. It is just that curve in everyone’s life that they go through. So if you are interested, I would suggest you head onto my article where I have discussed extensively how you can upgrade your dumb dorm room to a smart dorm room.

What is that one reason you would want a smart home?

What is that one reason you would want a smart home?

In all honesty, it all narrows down to what you are looking for in-home that needs to be smart. It is all personal perception of things and how you approach them. You might think that the concept of a smart home is silly and unrequired. You might also think it is both lazy and permissive to let a machine do the tasks that you are supposed to do? After all, you are perfectly capable of carrying out your home chores yourself, isn’t it?

Let me now give you an example of this whole smart home approach from an elderly person perspective. Do you know that almost all the elderly people and ones with disabilities have a hard time even doing the basic of tasks such as switching on and switching off the lights? Home automation can make a lot of difference in their life’s and finally allow them to be independent and live a life that they were accustomed to living in the younger days. This also saves the cost on expensive sheltered accommodation since these gadgets can really help them automate things that were once a mess for them to carry out.

A recent statistic in the UK showed that with the growing number of elderly people, more and more government institutions and medical charities are on the lookout for smart home automation and are showing great interested in their adaptability. To provide the right support, suitability, flexibility and increase their value of life; these entities are continuously investing in the gadgets that they offer to both the disabled and the elderly. A prime example is, people who are suffering from dementia are in the state of mind to always forget about things and have short term memory. Medical charities and the local councils have fitted their homes with automated sensors that check whether the hot plate they had been using is switched off or not. Or if there is any running tap or the heather has been ramped up so much that it poses a threat. And all sorts of other necessary daily activities have now been automated for disabled and the elderly, giving them the option to live in their homes and utilising all its benefits with the help of such gadgets.

Elderly people who are prone to falling when they wake up in the middle of the night to access the bathrooms have now got motion fitted sensors in their homes. This allows them to easily walk around their room when it’s dark since the motion sensors trigger the lights and even lightens up the pathways to the washroom.

Blind people can now easily buy standard electric appliances since there are gadgets currently available in the market (commonly referred to as the “controller”) that allows them to hook them up to it and then with the help of the controller, they can efficiently utilise the device without the need of manually operating it.

If you are elderly or disabled or know someone who can significantly benefit from this automation; then let me enlighten you further. Home automation can make a hell lot of a difference in such people’s life. Smart automation can significantly raise their living standard and quality of life. These gadgets bring in enhanced security, comfort and exceptional levels of convenience to them. You can provide them with a safe haven just by setting up smart devices to the things they are typically accustomed to using. Setup a smart TV for them and schedule it to switch off as soon as the TV detects there is nobody sitting in the room, thus saving energy costs. A well-installed smart bulb can help the elderly to have a decent amount of light present when they are sitting on the sofa reading a book. If you have gone to the next step in such automation homes, then you must use the smart app that these gadgets bring along with them. You can easily control the devices and how they perform using the smart apps. So if you notice watching remotely from your NEST camera, that your parents or grandparents are having a hard time hearing what is being broadcasted on the television; then you very well can remotely ramp up the volumes on the TV. All in all, it is a great thing to do for someone you know can benefit from these technological advancements in the field of home automation. One another added benefit is that the elderly can greatly benefit from is a smart fridge. This allows them to forget about what needs to be bought and the smart fridge automatically sends the updated reports on what is kept in the fridge to the recipient. Now that recipient could be anyone. A local utility store or even “you”. Gone are the days when we used to worry if our grandparents have run out of milk or bread! Hello Smart World!

Still not convinced? Well, maybe I would not be able to convince you at all then. *Evil Grin*! Let me take another shot at this.

Do you really need to buy smart appliances to switch on and off a light? Is it really that difficult to get up, go to the switchboard and press the button to switch off the light? Is it that difficult to switch off the television using your app on the phone instead of going near the TV and pulling the cable from the wall socket? How about just switching off the TV altogether and reading a book? What stops us from socialising with our neighbours and befriending them instead of installing smart surveillance cameras all across our house? Why not just request them to look after your home and throw in feed into the fish tank every second day? After all, socialising is far better than us digging in deep into the digitalised world.

But for many of us! A house is indeed a machine in which we LIVE IN. And if that’s the case in your particular scenario, then that too is fine! Since if small is beautiful and simple is best, smart home for you might be one that no gadgets at all!

What is this IOT everybody keeps talking about?

What is this IOT everybody keeps talking about

The one and the only thing that makes people smart as opposed to any other living creature on this planet is our ability to communicate with each other. We can talk to one another, coordinate, listen and get things done and achieve the most complicated of the tasks. From finding cures to disgusting cancer to set up a mission to land an astronaut and his team on the moon; all is accomplished just by the mere collaboration and careful thinking and planning.

There is indeed a lot of hype about the Internet of Things (IoT) and how it has impacted on everything that we do almost on a daily basis. It includes and revolves around how we shop, use technology, move and as much as how one should keep books in their own personal shelves at home. But what we are genuinely going to discuss here is what in essence is this whole IoT concept and why is it so important that we get to hear this jargon almost every other day.

What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

Let us break down the whole word itself

I               –              Internet

O             –              Of

T              –              Things

In reality, it means the same thing! Internet is the backbone of the digital world in which we currently live in. Like it or not, “Jetsons” version of smart homes is not far now. IoT includes anything that has access to the internet Let it be your smartphone, your smartwatch, your smart car, etc etc. Anything that has the capability to switch ON of OFF electronically and has access to the internet; falls under the big umbrella that the technologists have labelled as the INTERNET OF THINGS (IoT). It couldn’t get any simpler than that my readers!

The Internet of Things (“IoT” hereafter), is a vast network of inter-connected devices including people who collect and share data amongst each other. This data could be anything as we all know data is the raw form of the information. What actually happens with this data is what and why the IoT concept was realised and symmetrised.

IoT could include anything, ranging from your smart microwave; that is capable of cooking and preparing your food or your favourite pasta or pizza. Self-driving cars, which are intelligent of knowing if an object is right next to them to either apply the brake or steer away from the path keeping like a billion of other constraints into account when taking that particular turn. Wearable fitness devices that are capable of measuring your heart rate, and provide you with the basic information of how well your heart is performing and if something is out of the ordinary and you might need medical attention. There are even connected footballs that are now available in the market that let the trainer and the trainee know how far and fast they are thrown to take into account what needs improvement, and much more which is really beyond the scope of my blog since I am a technology enthusiast and not a “scientist”.

Please tell me more about IoT!

All those devices and objects that have built-in sensors and programs fall under the category of IoT platform. This integrates data from the different devices and immediately applies analytics to share the most valuable information with applications that are built to address a specific need or a problem.

These IoT platforms are designed to be so very powerful that they can generate conclusive reports and make the suggestions to the user what actually is the problem at hand and how it can be attended to. A prime example is your smartwatch! It keeps on detecting your pulse, and once it gets a reading that is beyond what is the average of your body that it has calculated over time, it will raise a flag and vibrate with notifications alerting you of your current heart-rate and would make suggestions to take breaks. Some smartwatches even go the extra mile to send an alert to your emergency contacts in case it realises there is no pulse or fading pulse. I wish all my readers the best and the safest of health! Amen to that.

Now from a business point of view. Let us assume I am a car manufacturer, and my business revolves around providing with my customers what they want in my particular brand. If I have incorporated the use of technology in my business, then below are the benefits that I would have over another manufacturer who chooses to stick with the traditional ways of conducting business.

  1. I can very quickly see where my customers are lined up in my car showroom and what exactly is it that is catching their interest in the cars that I have manufactured. This all is possible with the help of sensors and CCTV cameras.
  2. Find out from my sales reports what particular mod in the car has caught the interest of the customers and what have they requested for in future models or at least have shown interest.
  3. Automatically align the data that I have from the sales system and ensure that I never run out of stock.

All this can significantly help me increase my productivity levels, increase efficiency, and boost sales performance just because of the automation that I have deployed in my space.

With the insight provided to me by these advanced analytics, I can then quickly and efficiently streamline my processes and make them more efficient. Smart systems help us to automate tasks that are either monotonous, mundane, boring or even sometimes dangerous. Read below to find out how IoT revolutionised our daily lives.

IoT in our homes

Let us consider an example of you waking up for work every day at 6:45 AM using a traditional alarm clock. Who wants to replace something that works just fine, right? Now given a scenario, your train got cancelled. Which means now you are forced to drive to work by commuting on your car. Let us add some cherry on the top of this scenario. Right before your alarm kicked in, there was heavy rain that happened, and the road to your office has been cluttered with cars, and there is more than usual traffic. But your alarm wouldn’t know about it! So do you reckon that waking up at 6:45 with your regular alarm be helpful in such scenarios? Absolutely not! It is just a dumb device which has no clue what it’s doing other than showing you time and buzzing the alarm sound.

Now let us factor in that there was an IoT enabled smart alarm clock. If this were the case, then the smart alarm clock would have factored in that your train for today has been cancelled. There were heavy shower’s that took place in the morning resulting in congestion on your office route. Your IoT enabled device would have taken all these information from its repositories since that’s what a smart alarm clock is designed to initially do and then it would have had woken you up before the time what you had set before sleeping.

If your IoT-alarm clock is super-smart, and factoring in all the constraints above; it would also sync with your IoT coffee maker at the office to delay preparing your morning coffee for you since it knows you would be late than usual.

IoT in your vehicle

Now let us consider that you are already late for work because of all the reasons stated above. While driving to work, “BAM” the check engine lights come on. If you are like me, I would have just headed straight to work and ignored the light. But what if there is something critical to the performance and the safety of your car and you.

In a connected car (IoT enabled); the sensor in your vehicle that triggered this check engine sign would send the report to the diagnostic bus that collects data of similar sort and then passes it to your manufacturer automatically. The manufacturer would then be able to get hold of you and advise you where the nearest authorised service centre is. Send you directions and also pre-order the part so that by the time you reach their service centre, the part would be made ready and you would then need to wait less time as compared to making appointments and waiting in more extended ques. Voila! The power of IoT.

What about the security in IoT?

IoT concept is still at its infancy stages. But that shouldn’t ward you off and steer you away from embedding technology into your home.

The only and the best practice to follow is always to ensure your smart devices are kept up-to-date with the latest firmware upgrades and patches that the product’s manufacturer releases. Stop on the habit of pressing “REMIND ME LATER”. Researchers found that almost as much as 100,000 cameras could be hacked just because the firmware’s were not updated. Smartwatches worn by the children could be used to eavesdrop and heck even talk to them. All of this is because of the never-ending war between white hat and black hat programming experts. In a broad term, a consumer-based developer (whitehat) and a “hacker” (blackhat).

I hope you found this article useful. Do not forget to share this article with your colleagues, friends, grandparents and peers! Let us make SmartNutter.com the best possible blog in smart home automation.

Sign

Zohaib S.

A technology enthusiast who has converted his home into a "JETSONS" edition.

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